Laying it down, all through the night – working the night shift with paving crews
It’s a little after two in the morning.
Night owls are shuffling out of local bars and into their Subarus. A hollow, bright moon shines down on North Lake Tahoe, its glow outdone only by the large floodlights set up along North Lake Boulevard.
“After Labor Day we see daylight,” says Dick Furtado, assistant resident engineer with Caltrans, as he dulls the night chill with a swig of coffee.
In a few weeks they’ll be gone. You might never have known they were even here, if it wasn’t for the smooth, black pavement left in their wake.
Caltrans has contracted with Granite Construction Company, based out of Watsonville, Calif., to repave the highway from Tahoe City to Stateline. To avoid causing further traffic delays during this tourist-heavy season, crews have been slinging hot, liquid road through the less-traveled summer nights.
From the flagger to the raker to the guy who drives the steamroller, there’s about 15 workers toiling like moles – beady eyes replaced by 3M reflective strips along their pants legs. The crews work in 12-hour shifts, getting in their full swing by 8 p.m. and vanished by the time morning traffic rolls into town.
Tonight the crews aren’t working on the highway; they’re paving the many driveways that dot the stretch of road. After laying down a coat of concrete, asphalt and PPACA (a kind of rubberized oil) across a given drive, the crew moves down to the next, then the next.
Driveways, Furtado explains, are tougher than paving the highway. As opposed to a straight-shot on the road, the hundreds of driveways make for more difficult and tedious work.
When the crews aren’t working on the more time-consuming driveways, they tackle about a mile of road per night. Like a cross between a New Orleans funeral procession and an industrial conga line, the crew moseys their way down the highway.
The procession is led by a large truck that drips hot pavement onto the road. Behind the truck is an orange-vested brigade: the rakers.
“I’m the final say-so,” says Aaron Nelson as he rakes his luke (the technical term for rake) across the freshly poured pavement.
Rakers are responsible for smoothing out the surface, spreading lumps and kneading clumps before the steamrollers join in the dance.
As the grand finale of the process, the steamroller cruises up and down the fresh stretch – ironing out any remaining wrinkles.
While the night work is easier in regards to the traffic congestion, Furtado says that it does have its drawbacks. Although there have been no accidents during this summer’s paving of North Lake Boulevard, the dark cloak of night does foster some amount of risk.
“A lot of risk factors are out here at night,” he says. “It’s a lot more dangerous; it’s harder to see.”
The lack of light also lends itself to another problem. Even with their blinding lights, the pavers are not able to fully appreciate their finished products.
“What you see is what you get,” Furtado says, pointing to the fresh blacktop fading into the night as the lights roll further down the road. “We don’t know what we got until daytime.”
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